Some Thoughts From The Tchaikovsky Competition

It is a strange experience to be here in Moscow as a judge for the 14th Tchaikovsky Competition, because my last connection with this competition in this city was 50 years ago at the 2nd competition. The former Soviet Union, and at that time the recent shock of Sputnik, was still fresh on our American psyche not to mention the impact of one tall and lanky Texan pianist named Van who four years earlier, had rocked our world and gave us the dream of ticker-tape parades and super-stardom.

Over the half century, there has been a sea change throughout the world, in music, and internally. Young people today definitely feel that they are more ready to pounce on this prize and instantly change their lives (and ours) than we fantasized in 1962. The reality, of course, is that the winners’ careers can be helped and abetted, but the real change that needs to take place must happen internally with each individual who has been lucky enough to have been exposed to this remarkable arena.

Yes, this competition is probably the most international of all of the classical performer’s competitions just by the nature of its artistic demands and whom it attracts in the concert business as well as the competitors themselves. A wider range of cultural differences exist on both sides of the concert stage. That is true for the young musicians and the judges as well.

Fifty years ago the focus was less on the immediate result than it is today because of the changes resulting from the social and media revolution. In the early 60’s one had a great deal of time to adjust to the change in one’s status if you will. Now, literally, the whole world knows instantly of your success and thereby expects it to be lasting and permanent. No time for reflection, growth, metamorphosis of style, etc. The top achievers will have to be impervious to any change or smallest lapse. The pressure is enormous.

In a related matter, I know of one teacher whose demand overnight tripled in student applications because of the success of one student in the limelight. This used to take years to develop, but now because of YouTube, Facebook , Twitter, etc. we not only know the latest news when it happens but we know far more details, such as who studies where and how to contact those individuals.

The music is still there but there seems to be more demand for a super hero type of performer, one who can perform virtually perfectly and also have the depth of an old philosopher. Someone, who is to be destined to rewrite the history books of the performers achievements; or at the very least, their wikipedia pages.

It’s almost as if we yearn for these supermen to comfort us in a time of such swift change that we are dizzy from it all.

But the pressure to fill this gap in someone who is under 25 instead of 40 is perhaps just a dream. We will see.

One of the exciting things in this process is the biggest surprises arrive when one least expects it.

3 Responses to Some Thoughts From The Tchaikovsky Competition

  1. Leslie Miller July 15, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    I watched almost every minute of the cello competition. You seemed to be having a good time. What are your thoughts? I cannot find them on your blog.

    Tried to get out to Lenox to hear you tonight, but work calles and so I’m reduced to listening to you on the radio. ave heard you play many times over the years and always come away feeling as if Iam a better person for your playing.

    • lynn Harrell July 22, 2011 at 11:16 pm #

      Thank you so much! That’s the best compliment! I have cogitated about the Competition now for awhile — I will write something very soon.

  2. Young Cellist September 14, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    Do you think there is pressure among judges to select a young winner? I ask because you mention pressure to select somebody under 25, but the age limit of the competition was 30 and there were many good candidates over the age of 25. Thank you for your thoughts!

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